Friday, October 02, 2020

Poetry Friday- Closer to Nowhere

Hopkins, Ellen. Closer to Nowhere
October 6th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hannah is happy with her life, but things have been upended ever since her mother's twin sister, Caryn, died of cancer. Her cousin, Cal, lived with his father for a while, but his father used drugs and was abusive. When he went to jail, Cal ended up with Hannah's family. Suffering from PTSD, Cal's behavior can be erratic, and he sometimes runs away or has screaming fits. Hannah's mother tells her that this is Cal's way of coping, and that these things helped him survive, so she tries to be understanding, even when Cal's behaviors interferes with her gymnastic competition. It doesn't help that Cal occasionally embellishes the truth, or that her classmates think he's a little "weird", but Hannah understands enough about Cal's background to try to be supportive. When Hannah's grandmother visits for Thanksgiving, things go badly awry. Her grandmother had an epic falling out with Caryn before her death and never reconciled with her, so she is grieving especially hard. She is unkind to Cal, and has nothing good to say about his father, particularly since Caryn dropped out of college to marry him. Cal finds out from his aunt, Taryn, that his uncle Bruce is going to be moving out, and he blames himself, since Bruce seems to have trouble with him being in the household. Cal is hungry, so heads toward a soup kitchen where he knows he can get a meal. There, he runs into a classmate, Brylee, who is working there. Brylee's parents are divorced, and she tells Cal that he can't think it is his fault. Cal heads towards home and gets picked up by a police officer. He's wary at first, but the officer turns out to be very supportive. There are a few consequences when he gets home, but everyone except for the grandmother understands why he ran away. When Cal's father is released from prison and wants visitation rights, Cal is not happy. Things were very bad with his father, and he is settling into life with Hannah and her family. Will he be able to hold on to this situation?
Strengths: It's good to see events through the alternating viewpoints of Cal and Hannah. They have such different backgrounds, and react to the situations both are in based on their life experience. Cal's reactions are very much informed by his trauma, and Hopkins does an excellent job at explaining what happened to him, and showing how this causes him to react. Hannah has moments of being angry with Cal, but is able to think about what he has been through and moderate her responses. Middle school students usually struggle with this in real life, so it is very nice to see portrayals of a child being successful at this. I particularly liked how the two banded together to approach the grandmother about her drinking, and seeing the two of them together in a school lockdown was really interesting. The verse format of this is much better done than several I have read recently. My students seem to like a particular flavor of problem novel, and this includes several topics that they request: substance abuse, child abuse, and blended families.
Weaknesses: Cal seems to change very rapidly at the beginning of the book; I even went back and checked to see that I hadn't missed pages.
What I really think: I haven't bought any of Hopkins' other books because they are solidly Young Adult (due to topics and language), so it is good to see her enter the realm of middle grade. She has done a great job at addressing several difficult topics in a way that should appeal to many different readers.

D.K. Publishing. A World Full of Poems
October 6th 2020 by DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was a really gorgeous collections of poetry that I would definitely buy for an elementary library. I loved the set up, with the poems on well decorated pages, arranged by theme. The only problem was that the poems were more... verse. They covered topics of interest to younger students and employed much simpler language. Since my 7th graders have a project where they find different sorts of figurative language in poetry, this wouldn't quite work. I'd love to see a collection for middle school students in exactly this format, though. There were some stand out poems-- Carol Ann Duffy's Don't Be Scared, Celia Warren's Fireworks, Susan Blackaby's Recycling, and Terry Webb Harshman's Global Gorging. Also, is it just me, or does Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry still hold up really well? I also think Treasure Island is one of the better classics, if students are determined to read them. 

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